The First Bank of Skymoore, Also Called the Last Bank of Seamoore, Formerly Called the Second Bank of Seamoore was easily Skymoore’s longest building, with a walkway as wide as its name and a garden fit for royalty of a particularly decadent nature, containing more unique flowers in its expansive lawn than the bank had customers (and as it was Skymoore’s only legal bank outside the Mish Mash…it had many, many customers).
By the time Donovan and Hega neared its illustrious walkway, half a dozen guards were frantically trying to place a number of flimsy-looking sandbags to obstruct it, lacking both the manpower and the bag quantity to sufficiently stop an excited toddler, let alone a rampaging rodom. Hega told them as much.
“But it’s all we’ve got, Ms. Perdugal, ma’am!” a human woman complained. “Everything we’ve tried keeps failing. Two of them already got through to the bank!”
“What?!” Hega snapped. “And went where? Through the door? Around back?”
“Y-yes,” a halfling replied.
“Yes to what? Both?”
“We don’t know,” a humanoid butterfly mumbled. “We hit the deck, and then they were just…gone.”
Donovan rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “I don’t see how we can possibly stop them with anything here, and we lack a sturdy dragonborn to pluck them off the ground.”
Hega slapped Donovan on the arm. “Pluck them off the – what! He could do that and you let me send him away?”
Donovan got sheepish. “I thought you had a plan. That’s your job, right. Planning?”
“Planning for evacuations, not runaway rodoms.” She rubbed her forehead, massaging the creases forming there. “Okay, look, Major Lieutenant Karpsring is right, we don’t have the means to stop these things. But presumably the perps have a plan to take these things to wherever the rodoms are going, right? So we just need to stake them out.
“Karpspring, you and the others head inside the bank and try to cut them off there, if at all possible. Let Jerun Pollin know what’s going on, if he doesn’t already. Donovan, you and I are going hang out in the hedges and watch for them in case they’re going through the back. It’ll be a little prickly, but we’ll survive.” Donovan nodded.
From inside the hedge, which was indeed a very uncomfortable place to be, Donovan and Hega had a clear view of the gate leading up to the bank. Donovan could not help but notice that despite the fact the hedge surrounded the building’s entire perimeter, Hega had chosen to position herself right up against him. He wasn’t in the headspace to reprimand her for her unnecessary intimacy – he only wanted to get back to the shop and put this whole disaster behind him.
“What if it doesn’t come?” Donovan whispered. “What if it got into an accident on the way? What if the guard stopped them?”
“It will. It didn’t. They didn’t. Now please, restrict yourself to a single question at a time.”
“But how do you know?”
Hega didn’t answer. A short while later, the rodom came rolling up the street, pursued in vain by two guardsmen on a tandem bicycle. This was the one Donovan failed to pursue earlier, topped by the gnome who’d bought the Bonnet of Gravity Aversion. She far outpaced the guards, who were uselessly hurling a grappling hook up at her, trying to gain purchase in the stone or the gnome.
As the gnome wheeled up to the bank, she took a sudden turn onto the grass, rolling over it as effortlessly as smooth pavement. Donovan and Hega both watched sharply, waiting to see what kind of trick the thieves were employing to escape. The guards hopped off the bike when they met the grass, and made one last desperate attempt to hit the wheel, only to have it bounce off its stone surface (because of course) and land squarely in the hedge Donovan was hiding in, burying itself in his shoulder (because of course).
Donovan hissed in pain and Hega turned to him in concern. “No,” Donovan groaned. “Keep your eye on the – no!”
The rodom was gone. One moment it was rolling across the grass, then in the time it took for Donovan to meet Hega’s concerned gaze and look back up, it was no more.
“How?!” he demanded, yanking the grappling hook out of his shoulder, despite Hega’s repeated protests. He got a little woozy as a sudden rush of blood ran down his arm.
“Okay, that was foolish,” he admitted as he nearly fell off balance. “But I’m serious, where did this thing go?”
“Well,” Hega said calmly. “It has to have gone somewhere, right?”
“So let’s look around.”
Donovan went to the last point he saw it and walked forward a bit, half expecting to be transported to another plane or bump into an invisible door, but neither was true. He and Hega walked around the spot delicately and flailed about in search of something hidden to no avail.
Among the many now-ruined flowers in the garden, something caught Hega’s eye. “This is just an instinct,” she admitted. “But do you think that might be something?”
There was a patch of golden flowers, with crystalline leaves that refracted the sunlight. This was not interesting on its own, as there were many unique flowers with peculiar characteristics. What made this particular patch of flowers noteworthy was the dense, perfect circle of them, with an empty patch of grass in the center, about five feet wide. Although the grass leading up to it was undisturbed, it was hard to disagree that this stood out a touch.
Donovan examined the flower patch, walking about it in a circle. Despite their crystal appearance, the flowers were as flexible and fibrous as any plant, but Donovan had a hunch Hega was right about them. Something about all of this seemed very familiar to Donovan. He reached down to one of the flowers nearest the circle and rubbed one of the leaves. A very thin coat of paint wiped away when he applied enough force, revealing a blue petal underneath.
“Got it,” he said. He pointed at the pair of guards. “Does either of you have a bottle of water or something?”
One of the guards held up a waterskin. “Will tomato juice and coffee work?”
Donovan sputtered. “I guess so,” he said, taking the flask and slowly spilling its vile contents on the flowers, starting on the outside of the circle and walking inward. The paint washed away and beneath the murky liquid it was apparent that the flowers were a great many colors, organized in a pattern going inward from yellow to pink to purple to red to green to blue.
“This is a Gap patch,” Donovan explained as he stepped into the center. “Druids use them to travel to the Gap, where the hide their Circles. They use a number of different codes, which they hide in the flowers. Druidic is a written language only, but if you arrange these colors’ runes in order, it should vaguely resemble a word in some other tongue. Does anyone have something to write with?”
Hega stepped into the circle, dragging the bicycle behind her, and said “Jyult.”
Then they were in the Gap.
They found themselves on a very neatly-constructed mountain that seemed to be made of marble, situated in an endless forest. A path winded upward around it, so smooth it appeared to have been meticulously carved and flattened in an impossible labor of man. But Donovan had other things on his mind.
“You read Druidic?” he asked. “Learned that in the guard too?”
“Focus, Allman,” Hega chided. The rodom could be heard rolling up above, but how far was difficult to say. She handed Donovan a vial of the ointment that the thieves had been using. “Lifted this off our flamingo friend. Now help me lube up this bike.”
“Do you live to make me uncomfortable?” Donovan asked.
“It’s more fun than planning evacuations,” Hega said, “but no. I live to make you curious.”
Donovan frowned and helped Hega prepare the tandem bicycle, then boosted her up to the front seat. With the combined effort of one impressively built dwarf and one supernatural hero who was going soft, the two made remarkable pace up the remarkable mountain.
“Got a knife?” Hega called back to him over the howling wind generated by their speed. Donovan shook his head. “Damn. Give me the grappling hook, will ya?”
Terrifying Donovan as she steered by nudging the handlebars with her stump of a left arm, she bit down hard on the rope at the base of the hook, tearing through it with her blunt dwarven teeth. She tossed the rope to Donovan. “Tie this to both of us and don’t ask why. And don’t look at me like that; I’m no less than anybody for being disabled, but you’re the idiot who let the one-armed woman steer the bike.”
Donovan blushed as he followed her instructions, tying the rope around her waist and his. “Now hang on,” she said as the two of them caught sight of the rodom, rounding the corner just up ahead. Donovan put his arms around her, and Hega leaned back into him. “Never mind,” she said. “I’m glad you let me drive.” Donovan began to stammer a response and Hega laughed. “For the record,” she said, “I only do this to you because I know you like it.”
Donovan was only angry with her because he knew he liked it, too.
When the two of them reached the rodom, the gnome looked back at them with some degree of concern, but just kept running with fearful and reckless abandon. Hega grabbed the hook part of the grapple, and jammed it into the stone wheel with all her might, embedding it in the rodom by an inch or two. With a sudden rush of force that Donovan was utterly unprepared for, the two of them rocketed upward off the bicycle which plummeted off the edge of the cliff, and soared up to the top of the rodom.
Donovan screamed. Hega whooped. Donovan, after collecting himself, also whopped.
Hega let go of the hook at just the right moment, throwing their combined weight and slamming into the gnome, sending her sprawling off of the rodom. She composed herself enough in midair and gripped the edges of her bonnet with both hands, causing an unseen and unfelt updraft to lift her higher into the air, toward the top of the mountain.
Donovan and Hega landed in a painful heap on the other side of the rodom, sliding for one terrifying moment to the edge of the marble path. Hega was practically cackling. “Whew! I’m glad that worked!”
“Son of a – aardvark!” Donovan growled. “I sold her that blasted hat!”
Hega snorted, supporting herself over Donovan with her arm. “Aardvark? Are you a schoolteacher now, Donovan?”
“Only someone who spends far too much time around Nestor.” She grinned and kissed him on the cheek, and he reddened. “Hega, I’ve told you, I’m not –”
“Lighten up, man, it was a friendship kiss.”
“I’m plenty light,” Donovan insisted as Hega helped him to his feet, “but is this really the time for friendship kisses? They’re getting away.”
Hega rolled her eyes. “Oh no, wherever will we find them? Maybe at the top of this mountain, the only place to go without falling to our deaths.”
Donovan pouted, and led the way up the marble mountain, muttering about how she could probably make her way down with the great hat he sold her. After several minutes of ceaseless teasing from Hega, they reached the top. Donovan stopped in his tracks, stunned into stillness.
“What’s the matter?” Hega asked. “You know I’m only pulling your leg, right Donovan? I don’t want to make you truly uncomfort-” Then Hega stopped, too.
Lying at Donovan’s feet, rendered frost-bitten and blue, was the corpse of the gnome in the purple bonnet. Two other, similar corpses lay further up the perfect plateau at the top of the mountain. Standing there among the hundred or so rodoms, watching the newcomers in an eerie, chilled silence, were six cloaked figures wearing masks of stained glass.
Hega opened her mouth to speak, and the figures charged.